All posts by David Oldroyd

Climate cascade towards ‘Hothouse Earth’

A new research report referred to in this Guardian article offers in graphic form a catalogue of ten climate change trends and effects that may combine to greatly hasten the heating of Spaceship Earth. Feedback loops are likely to amplify one another leading to effects that will make any efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, of little consequence.,

One of the authors of the Stockholm Resilence Centre research Johann Rockström says there are huge gaps in data and knowledge about how one process might amplify another. Contrary to the Gaia theory, which suggests the Earth has a self-righting tendency, he says the feedbacks could push the planet to a more extreme state. As an example, the authors say the loss of Greenland ice could disrupt the Gulf Stream ocean current, which would raise sea levels and accumulate heat in the Southern Ocean, which would in turn accelerate ice loss from the east Antarctic. Concerns about this possibility were heightened earlier this year by reports that the Gulf Stream was at its weakest level in 1,600 years. Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1C above pre-industrial levels and rising at 0.17C per decade. The Paris climate agreement set actions to keep warming limited to 1.5C-2C by the end of the century, but the authors warn more drastic action may be necessary.

This is the link to the research paper

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene”  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in the USA.

This review includes the following conclusion:

“Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” is a powerful and convincing argument for rapid and radical action. Its weaknesses should not distract us from recognizing it as an important contribution that should inform all serious efforts to understand and respond to the global crisis. By firmly placing climate change in the context of the Anthropocene and Earth System Science, it breaks from the dominant view that global warming is a linear process that can be solved by market reforms. Incremental measures like carbon pricing cannot address the systemic problems that are relentlessly driving Earth’s temperature upward.

If an irrevocable trajectory to Hothouse Earth is even possible — and this paper shows that it is — then decisive counter-measures must be at the top of the agenda for everyone who is concerned about humanity’s future.

LOSING EARTH

This long read with rich interactive images, is from 1st August 2018 New York Times on-line. It takes a look at the way climate science in the early 1980s set out the trends that now are having great impact on the earth’s atmosphere and oceans and threatening present and future  generations. It details some of the key scientific figures whose work three decades ago created the base for understanding climate change brought about by human action.

Here in a review of the NYT article, Naomi Klein takes issue with the NYT author’s failure to recognise that the 1980s was the decade in which politically supported neo-liberal capitalist values were set in train – the so-called Reagan-Thatcher years, Klein herself has written a  major book that presents the argument that the ascendancy of powerful corporate interests, especially fossil fuel corporations, were able to mount a campaign of climate denial at that time. Offering a sliver of hope about the present, Klein sees the appearance of social democratic contenders in US politics as a counterblast to the present  earth-wrecking policies of the current administration.

And here a second critical review from Common Dreams that supports the view that neo-liberal policies are the main driver of climate change,

CFCs & HFCs update

This article from The Conversation includes two short video presentations updating on the depletion of the ozone layer and the not-so-successful as thought united effort to curb the use of CFCs in refrigeration and air conditioning machines. The Montreal Protocol of 1987 has long been regarded as a rare success story in the face of environmental damage with global consequences.  Recently an increase in CFC use has been traced to the manufacturing of building insulation material in China.

This second article is from Jeremy Williams’ blog on the environmental costs of refrigeration from the estimated 1,4 billion fridges worldwide and 1,6 billion air conditioning units. HFCs replaced CFCs but they still make a major contribution to global warming if not to ozone depletion.

Yet another example of the unintended consequences of technological development that brings benefits but grave unintended long-term costs to humanity,

Plastic pollution: no solution?

This article suggests that the oceans are more threatened by climate change  and over-fishing than by plastic accumulation and that the fundamental problems are created by ignoring the environmental  consequences of economic growth. Technofix solutions to cleaning up plastics can only have minimum impact as can local action without government regulation around the world of the production of plastics.

Communities in charge of managing their local environment have been shown to be effective in coastal areas, but issues always arise with the scaling-up of these approaches to national or international levels.

There is clearly a need for policies which support local initiatives, rather than combat them. For example, government policies should immediately call for bans on non-essential plastic packaging rather than “working to a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042” as the UK’s 25 year environmental plan currently indicates.

 

CO2 emissions footprint

This comprehensive MAHB article with  revealing graphs mapping increases and tables analyzing sources, is the best short update on human production of atmospheric CO2 to 2018 that I have read. The accelerating trajectories of CO2 emissions to the current 411 ppm level far exceed the highest amount ever observed in the atmosphere during the last 800000  years.This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning, and can be well accounted for based on the simple premise that about 60 percent of fossil-fuel emissions stay in the air.

The author concludes the article as follows:

Today, we stand on the threshold of a new geologic era. What is happening is human caused. This does not augur well for the future for if we were to continue fossil fuel use with business as usual such that humanity exhausts the reserves over the next few centuries, CO2 would inexorably continue to rise to levels on the order of 1500 ppm[16].

The atmosphere would then not return to pre-industrial levels for even tens of thousands of years into the future. Figure 3 not only conveys the scientific measurements, it shows a stunning difference between today and the past 800,000 years. It also underscores the fact that humans have a great capacity to change atmospheric CO2, and therefore the climate on our planet.

The planet Venus suffers from runaway greenhouse effect, which results in keeping its temperature at 400o C [17]. Its atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide that comes from carbon cycling from molten rocks.

The condition of our Earth is ‘Anthropocene’, in other words is human made. Is it possible that we will end up like Venus one day in our reckless burning of fossil fuels?

This link is to the MAHB debate graph which allows search and comments on How to navigate the global 21st century?

Two months of heat wave in western Europe have prompted this statement from Michael Mann, a high profile climate scientist from Penn State U reported in a Guardian interview. It likens the relationship between global warming and extreme weather events to the correlation between smoking and cancer that was so long denied by the tobacco industry. Mann claims that AGW doubles the chances of these extreme events which also have seen devastating floods and wildfires around the world in recent months. And here is a BBC report on the association between the recent heatwave and climate change.

Planetary Ponzi Scheme

A Ponzi schemes is defined as

a form of fraud in which belief in the success of a non-existent enterprise is fostered by the payment of quick returns to the first investors from money invested by later investors.

Current extraction of earth resources uses according to Ecological Footprint research uses up a full year’s supply by the 1st of August this year – so-called “Earth Overshoot Day”. This article shows how since the 1970s humans have consumed more earth’s resources than can be renewed, in other words each year demand has overshot supply. Thus at present humans consume resources at a rate that would require 1,7 planets to sustain – hence robbing coming generations of the planetary support for the lifestyles we no enjoy.

Resource use is not, of course, a non-existent enterprise as is a Ponzi scheme in the financial world, but resource use that assumes future supply of resources that will satisfy future demand is an unfufillable promise as demand is infinite and supply finite and diminishing rapidly.

Here George Monbiot reviews what he calls  “the most profound and far-reaching book I have ever read” The Patterning Instinct in which Jeremy Lent throws light on why our current Ponzi predicament has come about.

Capital growth or Life?

This 2 minute video  sets out the fundamental problem of ensuring a sustainable future in the Anthropocene Epoch.  It is, of course, a gross binary-choice generalisation of a matter of great complexity but it sets out states what is so often avoided – that the drive for wealth that underpins capital accumulation has had devastating consequences for the natural world and the systems of the geosphere that support life on planet earth.

Much of this capital has been used to release fossil fuel that was locked for millions of years in the lithosphere. This cheap energy has allowed technological civilisation to flourish and overshoot the capacity of the planet to support it.  Two remarkably important and brilliant presentations illustrate the effects of this maladaptive consequence of capital accumulation:

Johan Rockstrom  – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9ETiSaxyfk Beyond the Anthropocene (21 minutes) – presentation at the Davos World Economic Forum in Jan 2017 offers hope of exponential decrease in CO2 emissions to zero by 2050 + pace of exponential acceleration

Nate Hagens – https://un-denial.com/2018/01/27/by-nate-hagens-energy-money-and-technology-from-the-lens-of-the-superorganism/ (80 minutes) – a comprehensive ‘big picture’ presentation of exponential human impact on the planet fueled by a 200-year long temporary blip in available cheap fossil energy

Here is a favourite blogger’s take on the short video with which I started the above blog entry.

Heatwave 2018

Simon Lewis is Professor of Global Change at Leeds University and he wrote this Guardian article in response to the heatwave in Western Europe that is continuing into mid-July 2018. The article laments the failure of politicians to place climate change as high on the political agenda as Brexit or other distractions from the accelerating human impact on the planet.  Lewis is co-author with Mark Maslin of a 2018 book The Human Planet. CO2 emissions that accelerate global warming result from the impact of fossil-fueled conversion of resources into products and services for the current global population of 7.6 billion. The consumption of these products and services and related CO2 emissions that underlie global warming is extremely uneven and Lewis and Maslin pose the following question and offer stark alternative answers:

  • What will be the outcome of billions of people trying to match the resource use of the richest? How to make resource consumption across the world fairer & below sustainable environmental limits?
  • Either environmental breakdown
  • Or globally coordinated action towards global equality. (Lewis & Maslin, 2018)

The arrival of the US President in the UK at the time of the current heatwave reminds us that globally coordinated action towards global equality  is not his priority as he pulls out of the Paris Agreement and strives to MAGA (Make America Great Again) in a win:lose approach to the future that undermines international institutions.

And from a Resilience article:

According to calculations from climate scientist Gavin Schmidt, this year will likely be the world’s fourth warmest year on record globally, behind 2015, 2016, and 2017. With another El Niño on the way, next year could be even hotter.

All over the world, heatwaves are getting longer and more intense, the most well-documented and deadliest consequence of our failure to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

China – from ecological disaster to ‘ecological civilisation’?

A recent article published in Nature by Australian researchers is summarised here  along with two videos from the academic popular journalist on-line publication The Conversation.

Long-term public investment has brought about huge ecological advances since the misguided hubris of Mao’s campaigns to control nature misfired and led to large-scale environmental degradation and much human suffering in rural areas. President Xi has invented the goal of building an ‘Ecological Civilisation’ by working with nature not against it. Not all has gone well, thusfar, but there have been vast benefits in undoing the errors of past badly conceived unintended impacts of ignoring natural processes that maintain equilibrium between societies and the natural world.